Reading a book – the History of Time trialling by Peter Whitfield I was struck by some statistics about the level of road fatalities, during the 1930s and 1940s.
Despite road traffic being only 10% of today’s levels. Road deaths reached nearly 10,000 a year. There were up to 1,000 road fatalities a year of children under 10.
Yet, despite these shocking statistics, there was a widespread acceptance of these deaths. Nearly all road fatalities were put down as ‘accidents’. It is quite a shock to learn that during the Second World War – 50,000 people were killed on British roads (Source: Time, Speed and Truth, P.Whitfield) – This was a greater number of fatalities than the blitz (where 40,000 civilians were killed in air raids)
Cycling can seem an expensive hobby. I am the worst culprit – just look at my product reviews Shimano Dura Ace Di2, AX Lightness saddle (69grams) e.t.c. Whatever branch of cycling you take up, it seems there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. However, here’s a short reminder that it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. It’s quite possible to keep cycling very cheap.
1. Homemade mudguard flap
A cut off bit from a washing up liquid bottle is the perfect size for a mudguard flap. It’s surprising how much a bit of super-glue and reusable plastic ties can do for your bike. This is the old make do and mend philosophy. Don’t just buy something new, try fix and adapt.
2. Make do with one bike
24 hour record holder (541 miles) Andy Wilkinson is a true legend of long distance time-trialling. He deserves more recognition than he gets. How does he do such impressive distances? Well, for a start he only has one bike – a basic steel frame; on this one bike he does his commuting, training and racing. He says that only having one bike enables him to really get to know his bike, perfect his position and enables him to do better races. For those of us who work on the principle that the optimum number of bikes is N+1 – this is truly radical, (but, how much money would I have in the bank if I had followed this advice) It is a reminder that you don’t need to keep buying a new bike in order to do better.
3. Make your bike last
I went through a period of reviewing potential new commuting bikes – shiny single speeds, foldups, hybrid bikes, and lower end road bikes. But, when it came to the crunch, there seemed no point in spending money for only a relative minor improvement. My commuting bike has been going for 15+ years, and shows no sign of age; hopefully, it will last another 15+ years at least. It is true, a carbon fork would give a modicum of more comfort. Perhaps the braking power of disc brakes would improve performance 15% – but do I really need these? No. My commuting bike has already outlasted quite a few cars. When I try to work out the cost per mile of my commuting bike – it is incredibly low. My winter training bike cost £700 and has done (at a very rough estimate) 40,000 miles (0.0175 pence per mile). Is there any cheaper form of transport?
3. Homemade energy drink.
If you want to avoid paying £1.30 for every sachet of energy drink, why not make your own. Get some maltodextrin powder, fructose powder, a touch of salt, some orange juice and you have. Alternatively, you can just use ordinary table sugar. One simple recipe for a homemade energy drink. For 1 litre of energy drink, add:
60-80 grams of sugar
No added sugar cordial
A pinch of salt
topping up with water
4. Avoid the fashion labels
You can spend a fortune on Rapha clothing and the like. It looks good but comparatively expensive.
5. Buy from non-cycling shops
Often the cheapest place to buy cycling undergarments e.t.c is from non-cycling shops. Thermal underwear and wicking layers can be cheaper from clothes shops and other outlets. I got quite a few good thermal layers from Marks & Spencers – they do the job for winter training.
It’s the same with energy bars, often you can get same performance from much cheaper non-branded energy bars. I often go to my local Pound Shop and buy six Fruesli bars or similar (12p per energy bar, and if you look at the ingredients, it’s effectively the same percentage of carbohydrates.
How did Graeme Obree prepare for his hour record? Marmalade sandwiches; I bet that is not part of Team Sky’s hour record preparation for Bradley Wiggins, but it did the job for Obree. You don’t always have to spend a fortune on energy bars to get the best nutrition.
6. Get aerodynamics for free
If you really want to go faster, then the secret is to make yourself more aerodynamic. At 40kmph, 90% of resistance against a bike is air resistance. If you look at some pictures of time triallists, you will see how they can reduce their frontal area. The secret to reducing frontal area is not spending £3,000 on a time trial frame, but, getting the body into most efficient tuck. Even a cheap pair of aerobars for £20, will make a huge difference to reducing wind resistance and give you a good bang for your buck. You can spend a fortune on aerodynamic aids, but many of the key improvements can be made with very little cost. Tips for aerodynamics.
7. Do you really need it?
So often I’ve bought something because it was well marketed and looks nice, but I don’t really need it. There are some accessories you need like a lock and lights. But, for some reason, I’m always gullible for the latest light, which is brighter than the last. So I have a whole shed of different lights and components. When I look at my shed, I’m embarrassed about all the things I’ve bought thinking these will be good, but they hardly get used.
8. Ditch obsession with low weight / expensive components
This is a definite case of the kettle calling the pot black. Is there a worse culprit for spending silly money on silly weight saving components? (marginal gains hill climb bike) Probably not, but unless you miss a major hill climb championship medal by 1 second, those 500g weight saving is not essential. Even a bike 1kg heavier is not the end of the world. If you look at time saved from weight loss on a bike – it is less than you might imagine. 1kg up the Rake is worth 2 seconds.
If you really want to save weight, eat a few less chips; that’s the really cheap way to loose proper weight.
9. Buy the complete bike
It is amazing the equipment you can get on a sub £1,000 bike. If you spend £1,000 on a road bike, the constituent parts would cost you roughly double. Therefore, always try to buy the best bike you can and resist temptation to add expensive parts which only marginally add to performance.
10. Go down a groupset
The main difference between Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura Ace is about £500. The main difference between Dura Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 is about £1,500. If cyclists had to do ‘blind testing’ of different equipment, would we notice the difference? Probably not. I appreciate blind testing is difficult for bicycles, but if we were really honest, we would often struggle to notice the difference.
12. Do your own repairs
Rather than taking it down bike shop, and getting someone to do it for you, you can save quite a bit. Though with my experience is an amateur bike mechanic, this may prove a false economy. Also, compared to motor repairs, I’ve always found bike maintenance to be very cheap.
13. Ride the bike
The real way to get value for money from your bicycle is to ride it around town. Save money on the bus, save money on parking and petrol. Or even use a bike instead of owning a car. If you use a bike like this, it will pay for itself within a few months.
Cycling can be a very cheap method of transport. It is only in recent years, that we have been increasingly enticed to spend more on bicycles and bike components. However, I’m the worst culprit. I just like spending money on bicycles. Many times, I don’t really need to spend the money, but what else are you going to spend it on which will give as much joy? The only thing is if you’re on a tight budget, just remember the 24 hour record holder – a relatively cheap old steel frame. At the end of the day, it’s the human engine and not the size of your wallet, which makes a cycling champion. And if you’re not in the world of marginal gains, cycling can be very cheap indeed.
For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.
Buying a bike
The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a very good starting point for an entry level road bike.
I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike (£600) to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.
Since hill climbs are close to my heart – I can’t resist chipping in.
The truth is I’m torn between conflicting emotions.
On the one hand is the hill climb chimp, with a thought process like:
> “It’s better to die on a hill than surrender and walk up. The modern generation is too soft with its compact chain sets and granny gears. We should recreate the hill climbs of old – 12kg steel bike, fixed gears and the one who gets furthest up the hill without falling off – wins. That’s proper cycling – not this modern, get off and walk if you feel like it nonsense.
The other chimp in me is the more reasonable, rational, politically correct version.
Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.
The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.
CAR PASSED TOO CLOSE! – STOP – HAD TO COME TO EMERGENCY STOP! – STOP
By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.
What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.
Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.
60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!
Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London.
I remember vaguely a few months ago, something about a local politician from Birmingham (1) who said that cycling was the preserve of young adult men and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on cycling infrastructure because it only benefits a small percentage of the population. At the time I was too busy racing, but I made a mental note to write something about this later.
It can be hard work cycling on British roads
I’m probably three months late to state the obvious, but if the roads of a city are sparsely populated with cyclists – and predominantly middle age men – then it’s a very good sign that the opposite case needs to be made – It is a very good sign that a complete rethink is needed to encourage the broad section of society back into cycling.
You only get a skewed demographic of cycling – if the roads are perceived as too dangerous – making cycling appeal only to those who have different tolerations or risk, danger and dealing with intimidating situations.
The thing with cycling is that it is universal and democratic form of transport. It is cheap, accessible and at some point in time, most people have experienced some joy from learning to ride a bike. It is a shame, when this ceases to be the case.
In the US, this report states that the typical cyclists is a 39-year-old male professional with a household income in excess of $45,000 per year who rides 10.6 months per year.
In Europe, statistics for rates of female cycling as a % of cycling population are 45% Denmark, 55% in Netherlands, and 49% Germany, in the US it is 25%.
Another big difference is the age profile of people cycling:
Source: Cycling for Everyone at Rutger.edu
In the US for people over 40, only 0.4% of trips are made by bicycle. In the Netherlands this rises to 23-24%
The only question is why do people stop cycling?
Statistically, you can make a good case cycling is still relatively safe. But if you have to fight traffic and heavy goods lorries, no amount of statistics can change the real perception that it’s a tough job cycling on many cities. Too many near misses, too much stress. Perhaps some people don’t want to cycle because of the way they drive.
A very simple comparison is to look at countries which have built suitable cycling infrastructure – Germany, Holland, Denmark. In these countries, the demographic of cycling is spread across all ages and gender. Cycling is seen as safe; when there are good cycle paths, cycling is an extension of a pedestrian mode of transport. Pedestrians simply going a little bit faster.
At the end of the hill climb season, you finish with great top end form, but the less exciting, base aerobic fitness has been given a bit of a back seat. Late October is not the time to be getting 5 hour slow, steady rides under the belt.
After a couple of quiet weeks, the top end form soon dissipates; or perhaps it’s just that you don’t have any motivation to see if you can still sprint up hills. Instead, my thoughts turn to all those miles I’ve been missing out on, and all the miles I need to be getting in.
I was born in a frankly pre-historic, last millennium type analogue era. It was a time before heart rate monitors, power meters, Strava and all these notions of efficient training. I was brought into cycling on the traditional Sunday Club run. At the end of the 12 hour, 110 mile ride, you would just put your feet up and stuffed your face with food – there was no logging on to see how you were digitally comparing.
The greatest excitement for measuring performance was the annual Cycling Weekly mileage double spreadsheet. I used to cut it out and put it on my wall. There was a simple target to fill in as many miles as you could. The more miles the better. This is what is now called ‘Old School Cycling‘ – but we were real men in those days, no indoor virtual races from the comfort of an internet connected roller ride. And I would rather Cycling Weekly kept publishing a paper mileage chart rather than these adverts for Ritmo – which, on principle I have no intention of ever trying to understand.
Anyway, grumpy old man ‘things were better in my day’ complaint over.
For no particular reason, I get to winter and generate a target to try and do 1,000 miles in each of the winter months – November, December, January and February. There is no good reason for this; no scientific basis that the key to a 4 minute hill climb in October is doing 4,000 miles in the preceding winter. But, it’s good to have a target, especially one where it doesn’t matter so much if you miss out a bit.
To be honest, 1,000 miles a month does requires quite a lot of discipline – especially as the nights draw in and the weather turns remorselessly colder and wetter. I don’t think I’ve ever managed 4,000 miles for the four winter months, but I’m sure if I can do it this year, the 2015 hill climb season will be my best ever….
80 miles down – 3,920 to go
After two weeks of testing the waters – nothing more than the odd 32 mile ride (even if they did take 2 and half hours). Yesterday was chance to go out for a proper winter training ride. Five hours of plodding a lonely furrow through the Cotswolds.
If winter miles can feel a bit like a chore at times, yesterday was one of those great days for cycling, where you are just grateful to be out in the perfect autumn weather. If winter training could always be like this…
At 10 degrees, it was as good as it gets in mid-November. I took a meandering route to Bourton on the Water and Lower Slaughter; these have been voted the prettiest villages in England, and for good reason. It does make a refreshing change to be spending Sunday cycling through the late Autumn fall – rather than stopping off at a motorway station on the M6 after a brief 4 minutes of torture up some hill climb. I like the off-season – a reminder there’s more to cycling than racing.
I was looking through my blog for posts of the past two months. It has been all about racing up hills or reviews of light-weight (and expensive) components. A very small niche of a sub branch of racing cycling. (Apologies if you have got bored of blog posts about weighing saddles and racing up steep hills). But, as well as being a racing cyclist, I’m also a commuter and cycle into Oxford every day.
The curious thing is that the more I’ve got into racing, the slower I’ve got on the commute into town. When I didn’t do proper races, I remember racing to and from work. It was all about speed. I think I may even have timed my commute home, and tried to beat my personal bests. – (A timetriallist in the making, if ever there was) But, as I’ve got more into racing, I’ve slowed down when cycling into town. I’ve not sure whether this is me getting older, needing more recovery time or just a different attitude.
I suppose it is a combination of factors, including:
With racing at the weekend, I don’t have any smouldering competitiveness or fresh legs during the week. If you can ride at 30mph on a dual carriageway on a Sunday morning the desire for racing down Cowley road on Monday morning soon dissipates.
Slow recovery rides are good for you. As I mentioned in previous post, I used to do recovery rides at 18mph, now I do them at 14mph. To get a real recovery ride, you need to really go properly slow – either full on hill intervals or proper recovery is the motto today.
Patience is a virtue which is surprisingly enjoyable. In the past, when I got in any mode of transport, it was always a race against time. As a consequence, it was very easy to become frustrated at having to wait, getting held up or crawling along due to congestion. With this mindset of speed, you start to look for short cuts, the quick overtake, the dash through traffic. But, if you change your approach and try to enjoy the journey, it’s less stressful; you don’t feel guilty for standing still waiting for traffic to move. You just wait your turn.
With all the evangelical fervour of a converted sinner. I now get incredibly frustrated when motorists are similar impatient to overtake cyclists in dangerous manoeuvres – you always want to preach to the unconverted to tell them – if they could happily wait for the odd 10 seconds, it really doesn’t have to ruin their day. Take it easy, wait 10 seconds – and everyone’s happy.
Slow Cycling is good for you
So slow cycling is good for you. It makes you more considerate road user, but more importantly if you have a little more patience – you will enjoy the experience a lot more – if you give yourself an extra few minutes to get anywhere, you don’t have to squeeze through gaps which are really not advisable.
That’s the short answer, but if you ever need justification for buying a new bike – these are some reasons to help you dip in the wallet and buy the new bike you deserve!
Of course, no real cyclist ever needs justification to buy a new bike, but this might be helpful for dealing with those family members who may not share the same understanding of the scientific and emotional benefits of the new 2015 Shimano Dura Ace di2 groupset.
Good reasons to get a new bike
Because manufacturers inform you this years model is 20% more rigid, 12% lighter, 7 % more aerodynamic and only 33% more expensive. If you buy, everyone’s a winner!
If you don’t buy a new bike, it means you will be riding a bike that is potentially slower than you could be riding. How painful is that thought?
Why spend all those hours training in the wet and cold when you could be getting the same marginal gains whilst sitting in the office doing overtime to pay for your new bike?!
Because there will definitely be someone on the start line of your race / cyclosportive / Strava leaderboard – who will have that new bike. You wouldn’t expect Lewis Hamilton to turn up to a Formula One race, in a 1920s Ford Model T. You need the best to have a fair competition.
You need a cheap commuting bike to reduce the scare of getting your 33% more expensive new bike stolen. This is brilliant, You get a new bike that is so expensive, you have to get a cheaper bike to complement it. Two reasons for the price of one.
Cheaper than upgrades. If you took a bike apart and tried to buy the components separately, it would be twice as expensive. If you find yourself buying a new component like a new stem or new pair of wheels, you might as well just go the whole hog and buy a new bike!
The last bike you will ever need. The next bike you buy is so good, it will be the last bike you ever need. Manufacturers have been making bikes stiffer, lighter and more aero for years. But, this technological progress has to stop sometime. If you buy a bike, bike manufacturers are likely to say ‘that’s it, bikes can’t get better than this. (P.S. I have bought seven ‘last ever bike I will need’)
New bike gives new inspiration. There is a great feeling in riding a new immaculate bike. If you’re struggling with inspiration to train, buy a new bike and the next week of training will be really high quality because you are so happy to be riding a new bike. Admittedly, a weekly new bike could be stretching even the most enthusiastic resources of the most ardent ‘buy a new bike’ type person. You should save this for desperate times like the middle of winter.
Because it looks good. Who said a new bike needs to be faster? It’s not as if you’re going to win an important race anyway. Bikes are all about looks. That 1980s Colnago C50 will have plenty heads turning on the club run, and if that’s not worth taking out a £5,000 loan – what is?
Poor excuses not to get a new bike
There isn’t room in the shed. This is a very poor excuse. There is always room to accommodate a new bike. Who said bicycles have to be stored in the garage? Take down your David Hockney from your living room, and in its place put your new living modern art (aka – your new Colnago) on the wall. In this way you’ve killed three birds with one stone:
You have a motivation to clean the bike after every ride
You have joined the modern art movement of spending a lot of money on the unexpected!
You have your new bike! If all else fails, you could always consider selling an old bike. But, this is really a last resort, because it’s much better to accumulate an ever increasing number of bikes.
You haven’t got the money In the days of Wonga, credit cards and quantitative easing, there’s always money somewhere. Your granny may have told you money doesn’t grow on trees, but if the UK can have a national debt of £1,432.3 billion and Q.E. of £350bn money creation, do you not think you deserve a very small extension of credit for helping the economic recovery? Think of it as expansionary fiscal policy – any good Keynesian economist will tell you that your consumer spending is a selfless act for the greater good.
Family unconvinced. This is slightly tricky – your partner is not convinced that you need a 12th bike when the last family holiday was a budget hotel in Skegness in 2009. But, still with a new bike – every day is a holiday. All we need is that 12th bike and we will become a beacon of happiness and cheerfulness (until the next seasons models come out) – so everyone is a winner really. Note the emphasis on shared ownership. You may ride the bike, but really it belongs to everyone.
Helped by the Olympic success of female cyclists, women’s cycling has been on the up in recent years. The great thing about the Olympics is that a gold medal is a gold medal. Whether you’re a £250,000 a week professional footballer or a privately supported amateur, one Olympic gold medal is the same value as another gold medal – that is a wonderful equalising force. For many years, the Olympics didn’t allow women to run in events longer than 1,500m – though that kind of ‘perceived wisdom’ – all seems a bit embarrassingly outdated now. In cycling up until 2012, there were fewer Olympic events for women. Often situations, such as this are for no particular reason, except that is how it has happened in the past. But, the Olympic movement has moved on and has perhaps unwittingly become one of the strongest forces for promoting equality in sport between men and women. It has certainly helped boost professional women’s cycling in Britain.
I’ve been cycling (mostly time trials) for the past 8 years, and never really given much thought to women’s cycling. Women are generally a minority in time trials – perhaps making 10% of the field on a good day. But, this year I’ve noticed a shift to reconsider certain things. And it generally seems a progressive change.
One of the strange things about the time trials is lumping results of men and women together. 1st, 2nd and 3rd women deserve more appreciation than mid table anonymity of 45th overall or something. For me time trials are not just about time. I do like to see how I compare against my peers. It would be a big de-motivation if my placing in the final results felt rather random. This is particularly important for national championships. e.g. National Hill Climb Championship 2013 results. The Women’s champion Maryka Sennema (Kingston Wheelers) is listed only in the middle of the overall (63rd). In my blog, I did try to pick out the top women. It should be like this 100 Mile 2014 Women’s results. Hopefully, the CTT will do this for future hill climb championships.